With 20 per cent of the world’s gold passing yearly through Dubai, the souq is still a mainstay in the city’s growing ranking as a tourist destination. Image Credit: Zarina Fernandes/ Gulf News

Dubai: Precious metals have always drawn the curious and fortune seekers — Dubai’s time-honoured Gold Souq is no different.

With 20 per cent of the world’s gold passing yearly through Dubai, the souq is still a mainstay in the city’s growing ranking as a tourist destination.

“The Gold Souq is unique because of its authenticity and unique architectural style. It is because of this souq that Dubai came to be known as the City of Gold,” said Dhanji Motiram, an Indian jeweller whose family has been in the gold business for the past 50 years in Dubai.

Located in Al Ras in Dubai, the Gold Souq’s history can be traced back to the late 1930s, after the Gulf pearl industry gave way to faux pearls manufactured in Japan.

On the heels of the collapse, the local economy turned to trading gold to and from India, sparking Dubai’s long-standing association with gold that ultimately coined its reputation as the City of Gold.

Generations

As early as 1935 near the northeast opening of Dubai Creek, a small stretch of shops sprouted in the area of Deira and by the 1940s, the district was referred to as the Gold Souq. The souq has also expanded over the years from an area of 400 square metres across one lane, to more than two kilometres wide and three kilometres in length.

Ali Salah, a jeweller from Saudi Arabia whose family has been in the gold business for the past 40 years, said: “This is the only souq in this region and probably the entire world where generations have been running their business from the same place. Apart from the gold, what draws local residents and tourists to the souq is its traditional look. We have gold shops even outside this souq, but it is here that we see a steady flow of customers, all year round.”

The gold market accounts for one-third of Dubai’s economy with almost Dh30 billion generated per year.

Rashid Bukhash, Director of the Architectural Heritage Department at Dubai Municipality, said that Dubai receives an average of two million visitors a year.

“Once Dubai Creek is registered as a Unesco heritage site in June we expect the number of visitors to double and that will in turn generate extra revenue by Dh10 billion,” he said.

The municipality aims to expand the Gold Souq in cooperation with Dubai Investments, and the first phase is expected to start by the end of 2014.

Expansion

“The whole area from Al Ras to Hamriya will be upgraded and expanded, and part of the plan includes the Gold Souq’s expansion. In the souq, the lighting system will be upgraded to LED lights, which will be designed to blend in with the traditional architecture. The streets will be repaved and there will be more parking spaces and public toilets for visitors,” said Bukash.

Tourists in the gold souq said they were excited by the atmosphere in the souq.

For them a visit to Dubai is incomplete without going to the gold souq.

“It is just fantastic. I love the woodwork on the ceiling,” said David Heart, a first-time tourist to Dubai.

“It is very good. I am enjoying looking around the place,” said Ann Christian, a Swedish tourist.

Kazu Akiromori, a Japanese tourist, seemed overwhelmed by all the glitter.

“I am very excited. There is so much gold here.”